Trojans fall flat in fourth set in loss to Stanford

The USC Trojans fell to the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal in four sets (20-25, 25-19, 19-25, 8-25) at Galen Center Sunday night. 

Despite battling and emerging victorious over Pepperdine last week, the Trojans (1-7, 1-5 MPSF) fell flat in the fourth set against the Cardinal (7-1, 5-1 MPSF), costing them a chance at another 5-set match.

Sophomore opposite Jon Rivera once again led the Trojans with 13 kills while hitting .154. Senior outside hitter Alex Slaught tallied up nine kills while hitting .174.

Head coach Jeff Nygaard talked about how it’s good to see Rivera lead the team in consecutive matches, but he’s always looking for his players to continue to grow and improve.

“Is it surprising that he’s doing it? No, because I know what he’s capable of,” Nygaard said. “There’s always something to get better at and I’d love to see him become the blocker that I know he can be.”

Rivera himself seconded the notion about becoming a better blocker. He trusts that he’ll be able to continue to improve at USC because he has “great coaches, great setters, great teammates” that all believe in him and push him to be better.

“I’d say I have a lot to improve in,” Rivera said. “Being a more aggressive server and blocking — that’s my main deficiency, I would say. And I would say having a more aggressive mentality overall.”

Looking at the team as a whole through the match, Nygaard noted how the team lost their focus and met their match against a team that was playing to their potential.

“On any given night in the MPSF that can happen,” Nygaard said. “There’s no team that’s just unbeatable, but by the same token, you do have to perform.”

Part of Stanford’s dominance was thanks in part to their setter James Shaw. Shaw put up 46 assists and recorded seven kills.

“They’re setter does some things that we don’t see so often,” Nygaard said. “He takes the ball really high which doesn’t seem like a big change. But when you’re used to certain things and then you have a certain visual field because of it, all of a sudden he’s way higher.”

The height that Shaw sets at put the Trojans at a disadvantage.

“It changes how you block,” Nygaard said. “Over time it really rattles a younger inexperienced blocking group.”

Through the third and fourth sets, Nygaard rotated some new players in to switch up the lineup. Despite the Trojans dropping both sets, Nygaard still liked all of the lineups that he saw.

“That’s the great thing about this team is that our skill level and depth,” Nygaard said. “I trust everyone on this team to get done what needs to be done.”

Rivera talked about how the team needed to make adjustments to get used to the altered lineups.

“We always practice with a certain squad and when we start getting guys in and out, you know people don’t know that—we’re just not that used to it,” Rivera said. “I think we need to get better as a team on that, and it’s something we need to adjust, it’s an easy adjustment [because] we’re all great players.”

Everything seemed to more or less fall apart in the fourth set. The eight points that USC scored were the fewest in a non-fifth set since 2001 when rally scoring began.

Stanford outhit USC in the final set .500 to .192. The Cardinal outscored the Trojans 22-4 to close out the set.

Despite dropping the match, Nygaard still sees growth in his team: they’re looking “more like men on a daily basis.” He is still optimistic about the team’s ability to improve and play to their full potential.

“I expect my team to work hard and try and beat the next opponent,” Nygaard said. “We’ve got to continue to get better, continue to improve, and continue to buy in. There’s no other direction to grow.”

The Trojans will hit the road next week. They face No. 9 UC Irvine (2-6, 1-5 MPSF) on Friday and UC San Diego (3-6, 0-5 MPSF) on Saturday.